Maybe you went to school for occupational safety, or perhaps you took on the role of safety manager because you have a passion for helping your fellow employees. Either way, you know safety. But maybe you also aren't as schooled in communications or how to promote safety in the workplace in ways that elicit practical results. Even if you've been doing your job for a while, we're here to help. Here are a few fresh approaches to the psychology of communicating invaluable information to large groups of adults who range in age and job experience.
Start With a Behavioral Approach to Promoting Workplace Safety
Psychologists have found that, contrary to traditional communications strategies that focus on changing people's attitudes toward safety, changing behavior first is more successful at instilling changes in attitude over time. This behavior-based safety program starts by assessing what actions need to change, then using on-the-spot communications and intrinsic motivation to shift employees away from risky choices on the job. It's not that the employees' feelings don't matter— it's that the feelings change as the behavior does.
If you've tried encouraging employees to pay attention to safety and emotional messages aren't sticking, consider whether a visit from an industrial or organizational psychologist might help you identify opportunities to address dangers on your work floor. These professionals can help you customize your safety communications plan and leave you with the right ideas to promote safety in the workplace based on the unique makeup of your team(s).
Say It Again for the People in the Back
As of June 2016, the average adult in the United States consumed a whopping 10 hours and 39 minutes of media every day. That number jumped by a full hour from just one year before that, and it shows no signs of reversing. With employees who constantly have their minds on their phones, tablets, and TVs, you have a lot of competition for their attention.
To reach your employees, think about your safety program as a kind of (extremely unique, personal) advertising. Employ "effective frequency"—how many times you have to repeat a message before it sinks into your employees' consciousness—to repeat essential safety messages enough times to prevent injuries (the standard in advertising is repeating a message seven times). The New York Times recommends you use techniques such as asking your audience for permission every few minutes as you promote workplace safety at meetings, and keeping emails to as few as three-bullet points as possible so as not to overwhelm your audience and lose them completely to competing messages around them.
Teach Employees How to Communicate With Each Other
While you can talk about safety until your face is proverbially blue, your best bet for promoting safety in the workplace is through your employees themselves. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same skill for calling out their coworkers in a dangerous moment to correct issues. In fact, studies show nine out of 10 people surveyed had witnessed risky choices in their workplaces but only six in 10 felt safe to speak up. Sometimes they felt unsafe reporting issues, other times they felt unqualified. Here's a TED Talk about this phenomenon in all sorts of work environments and how psychological safety is involved.
If people know the company allows both mistakes and honest critiques without reprimand, employees are free to teach and learn from each other on the job. Successful interventions like these focus again on behavior, not on people. They require maturity and a level of comfort with each other and they demonstrate how much value the company places on open communication.
To encourage such openness, try a series of communication seminars that address the basic communication styles used by almost all adults. Learn how to address each type of communicator with respect. This sort of mandatory training gives each of your employees the same language with which to talk to each other and helps you develop a comprehensive culture of safety. Remember to include time to teach your staff how to listen effectively, too. With every employee from the CEO to the front desk operator receiving the same training, you might just see changes in your corporate culture beyond safety.
When you look at the psychology of communication, you can find new ways to promote safety in the workplace without your employees tuning out your messages. Target behaviors (rather than personalizing critiques). Show your employees how invested you are in their feelings of safety at work, and watch your safety program blossom.
How can I successfully implement new safety initiatives?
How do I get buy-in from management and workers?
What’s the best way to build trust and rapport?
Should EHS be a C-Suite position?
We explore these questions and more on the Safety Labs by Slice podcast. Check us out using the links below.